I believe he was afraid. He felt threatened. He sensed within himself a mysterious vulnerability, and he wanted whatever was causing this discomfort to stop. His experience was not unique. In fact, I believe that in our American culture – our way of life – silence, quiet, stillness, may be our greatest fear. We are continually surrounded, immersed in a cacophony of sounds and seemingly endless activity provided by a whole family of electronic enablers to which we are addicted. Even parish churches, once dedicated as places of quietness, no longer give us that assurance. Avoidance tactics and lack of resolve to give priority for quiet time, rob us of a great gift – to heed the words of the psalmist: “Be still and know that I am God.”. We were born for this! Remember who you are?
Remember the Genesis story that tells us that God created we human beings and all beings, through the life-giving, creative power of his holy Spirit. And God said: “It was good”. God was in love with us from the very beginning. He has “planted” Himself, an awareness of his “real presence” within each of his children, people like us. We call the site of that mysterious “real presence,” our soul. Our soul is at the heart of what it means to become the real person God envisioned. But as the story reminds us, we chose instead to rival God and go our own way with our new-found egos and self-consciousness.
Our journey became a life of exploring and discovery, searching to know what this journey is all about. We might answer: Get a life! And, as we know, we began defining life in our own image, a life increasingly full of ourselves. We forgot that God planted his presence within each of our lives. We still have a soul, we are still a “spirit-filled” creation, still loved by God. As in all ages, when our “spiritual amnesia” begins to lift, we see dimly, but we discover that the gods made in our own image fail us, and the words of an old prayer remind us that we are surrounded “by faithless fears and worldly anxieties.” Some might be tempted to recall words from an old Peggy Lee song: “bring out the booze and let’s keep on dancing – if that’s all there is.”
Thank God, there is more to life than that! Remember who you are? The “real presence” of God lives within your very own being – every man, woman, and child. We have souls that will never die. Stillness and quiet times will reaffirm that presence within you. Don’t be afraid. It is a gateway on your inner journey of discovery, of becoming the newness of life for which you were created in spite of our rebellion.
But growing pains accompany “newness of life.” The inner journey of “becoming” is not without risks and challenges. After all Lent is not simply another annual self-improvement program, “spring training,” polishing up our personal rough edges. At its heart, it is “soul-searching,” seeking a deeper communion with a “real presence,” the Spirit of God that lives within you. Lent is not the time we clean up the old model, it is the time we begin or continue that inner journey of transformation. Now we examine the risks and challenges. Now we turn to today’s Gospel according to St. Matthew. We call it “Jesus’ Temptations in the Wilderness.” (Think – Test/Challenge) It is important to remember that only Jesus could have told this account.
As soon as Jesus came up from Jordan’s baptismal waters, he saw in a vision the Spirit of God coming down, enveloping him with God’s Presence, and he heard a voice: “This is my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests upon him.” Jesus is the human face of God, the Real Human Being, yet bound inextricably within God’s mysterious presence and boundless love. At that moment he had no choice but to seek out a desert place of solitude, silence, stillness to fully realize what the future now held for him. At the end of his time of fasting, he began to find out.
The devil knew that Jesus was God’s Messiah, so he began his “mind games,” “ego games” with him, testing him with three challenges. The first one: “If you are the Son of God turn these brown stones that look like barley loaves into bread.” Jesus replied: “People can’t just live on bread alone. They need every word of love that God has to give them.” Next, the Devil took him to a high wall by the Temple on the edge of a cliff: “If you are the Son of God, thrown yourself off of this wall. Scripture says: Angels will catch you and you won’t even hurt your foot against a stone.” Jesus said: “You don’t play those kind of testing games with the Lord your God.” And last, the biggest temptation of all. From a high mountain, he gives Jesus a vision of all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. It’s all yours if you fall down at my feet and worship me.” Jesus replies: “Satan, get out of here. You and I both know that in the end you must worship and serve the Lord your God.” It was over for now, but Jesus knew that more spiritual warfare was to come. All of the “mind games” Satan played with Jesus perhaps can be summed up in one sentence: “Forget about who you are. Every person wants what I am offering you. Imagine – it’s all for you…and it’s free!”
What “mind games,” “ego games,” challenge our lives, our journeys? I suspect that each one of us can spend some time with this question, especially as we translate our Lord Jesus’ temptations, tests, challenges into the arena of our own lives.
The Lenten season and every season of your life is an opportunity to contemplate that soul-searching question: Who am I? Remember who you are.
1. The gift of God’s “real presence” lives forever within you. It is an inner journey that always awaits you.
2. The gatewas is through a time of silence, quiet, stillness, alone.
3. The 23rd Psalm is a gateway to lead you on your inner journey and I would like us to recite the King James Version together.
4. Open the red Prayer Book, p. 476, the King James Version. Let us read it thoughtfully together. It is the narrative of each of our lives.
5. Close: What Jesus said to those first disciples as they journeyed with Him, Jesus says to you: “Courage. It is I. Do not be afraid.”